Maybe the title of this post is a little misdirected as I don’t actually love icons, but rather I love using them and I am amazed on how this ancient form of visual communication still applies today. So here is a snippet (pasted in context of this article) of how Wikipedia defines an icon:
"…icon is also used, particularly in modern culture, in the general sense of symbol — i.e. a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities: one thing, an image or depiction, that represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning…" (taken from Wikipedia's website)
The thing I find interesting about the use/concept of icons is that they have been around for thousands of years. Obviously the scope has changed in regards to modern culture using them as recognizable symbols to help direct people in a certain direction without a written description in some cases.
We encounter them constantly while driving or taking public transit or, more importantly relating to this article, while using technology. Whether you are using your iPhone, Blackberry, Android or other smart phone, tablet or device, icons help direct us visually. I personally love using them on websites or applications as well because they can simplify navigation, they transcend language and they can visually add an extra dimension to a design or layout if used properly.
For example, social media has made icons the norm. Most people who frequent the internet will recognize that an “f” in a small blue square is the symbol/icon for Facebook and I bet most web users can name off certain products/brands like Adobe Acrobat, by just seeing the small square symbol. This is how powerful icons can be – they can help define a brand beyond the logo.
That being said, we are in the process of releasing the newest version (3.0) of our proprietary Content Management System - [email protected] Although we were concerned with going a completely new direction in terms of the look and workflow of our system, we knew that the use of icons would help guide users and in the end simplify use of the software.
The key word used above is workflow. People are busy, and saving them time is important. So, the use of icons in our new system not only helps visually, from a design perspective, but the workflow is improved to a huge extent. Points of interest are more easily found via visual symbols as opposed to having to read descriptions of where each link will take you.
Similar to how you can navigate the buttons on the dashboard/instrument panel of your car, [email protected]’s dashboard is now more user friendly and intuitive, and the proper use icons have a lot to do with that.